Hip hop; the epitome of hyper masculinity often characterized with images of violence, degradation of women, and hostility towards gays/lesbians. Typically embraced by young urbanites, hip-hop music has actually gained a degree of mainstream acceptance with fans spanning the demographic charts in every direction.
Now a diverse offshoot of hip hop often called “homo hop” or “gay hip hop” is standing at the door of mainstream acceptance and loudly knocking. Openly gay hip hop artists must confront and overcome overt homophobia within the music industry all while running the risk of being solely characterized by their sexual orientation versus the most important factor of all, their talent.
The Who, What, When, Where and How of Homo/Gay Hip Hop
“I coined the term “homo hop” as a joke, hanging out with a few homiesexuals in Oakland back in 1999″ states musical artist Tim’m West. In his reflection of the evolution of the term he added that as more openly LGBT artists continued to perform, that a “unique identifier to rally and mobilize the community” was used, hence the current day use of the term “homo hip hop” or just “gay hip hop.”
West adds that “Unfortunately, journalists get a hold of your “joke” and run with it. All of a sudden people are referencing homo hop as if it’s a whole new genre of music, when if fact, it’s just like other hip hop, but just performed, produced, etc… by LGBT/SGL people who are out of the closet as gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans, SGL.”
According to Phat Family, an international organization of artists, writers and fans interested in exploring issues related to hip-hop music, culture, and LGBT identity, describe it a little differently. “Homo Hop is not about infiltrating or integrating hip-hop, but in engaging in hip-hop’s elements with our full selves.
Homo Hop is hip-hop boiled down to its essence: blunt expression, individual and collective identity and sexuality. Homo Hop is just another generation of b-boys and b-girls who keep it real and say fuck you to those who would censor or control our expression” the organization states.
In fact mainstream hip hop artists have been notorious for their inflammatory lyrics which at one time had become the expected standard from some artists including DMX, 50 Cent, and Snoop Dogg to name a few.
With such hateful lyrics of violence and denegation, it makes one wonder why the LGBT community would embrace the hip hop music genre at all? Could it actually be a cry for mainstream acceptance, similar to how the Black Gay community tends to embrace homophobic gospel artists and ant-gay church congregations?
Are LGBT fans of hip hop actually attracted to the need for mainstream acceptance more so than the music itself? Well the answer actually may lie in a 2000 article written by Guy Trebay which was published by the Village Voice titled “Homo Thuz Blow Up The Spot.”
Trebay interviewed Mark Tuggle an outreach coordinator who stated that “I’m not necessarily pro the lyric. Hip-hop overall supersedes the lyrics. You have to remember where people are coming from. How can we expect hip-hop artists to embrace a sexuality they haven’t been taught? We’ve all been miseducated as a society about sexuality. At least hip-hop is founded on male-to-male love–the crew, the posse–and that appeals to our sense of art, poetry, and masculinity.”
Thus the allure of hip hop tends to be the commonality of community, urban angst, a shared degree of masculinity, and an emotional bond of brotherhood that draws in gay and straight fans alike. Listeners can relate to this overall theme, rhythmic beat, and messaging of the music which either speaks to their own personal experience or an experience in which they deeply empathize with. And since the imagery and the terminology of the word “gay” is often viewed as weak or effeminate, it is instantly considered opposite of the masculine and rugged image of hip hop and thus immediately rejected.
Hence, there is a love-hate relationship with hip hop music as it relates to its LGBT fans, thus the birth and growth of homo/gay hip hop. Over the course of a decade dozens of openly gay hip hop artists have dared to go where others in the music industry have only dreamed up going; out of the closet. Tim’m West, Torri Fix, Cashaun, El-Don, Exodus, Miss Money, Aaron-Carl, Deep Dickollective, Punk of Da South, and dozens others in both America and Europe have stepped to the plate, put down their own money down, and self-produced and marketed much of their own works.
In every way it seems, LGBT artists and the genre of gay hip hop are standing exactly where mainstream hip hop artists and the genre once resided. So the questions is what is the next step and when does it happen?
Gay Hip Hop Radio Bring Mainstream Attention
He dishes the unabashed truth peppered with foul, four letter words of reality intersected with slamming rhythms of gritty hip hop shoved in your face. He has the wit of Wendy Williams, the urban approachability of Tom Joyner tinged with the flavor of rude determination oozing through his pores.
His name is DJ Baker, the host of the online “Da Doo-Dirty Show” radio broadcast. For two hours, 5 days a week, we hear the latest in news within the Black LGBT community. From the latest Black LGBT issues to music, fashion and relationships; everything can be heard on this new groundbreaking show. In fact DJ Baker even shares intimate details of his own life from his past drug addiction to his HIV status combined with the ups and downs of his own dating life.
“I feel I have to share my personal life with the listeners cause I want the listeners to understand that they are not alone. We all have similar experience, so let’s share. I am always complaining that I don’t have the confidence to talk to dudes, but with this show I hope to improve on my confidence with my listeners. I want a relationship with my listeners. Not going to front… going to be as honest as possible. You have be honest to get honesty in return” Baker explains.
From having listened to “Da Doo-Dirty Show” for at least two weeks now, it can indeed become quite addictive, listening daily in an almost real time fashion. You can always get the latest developments of the day which Baker discusses in a blunt, matter of fact detail. The result is a highly polished program that can compete with some of the most successful syndicated radio programs in urban markets across the country.
The music of the show is of course driven by both LGBT and mainstream hip hop artists alike. It’s fresh, its underground, and its also mainstream, but most importantly it reaches to listeners at the very core of who and what they are.
“The goal of the show is to offer a platform and medium for gay artist to come to promote their projects whether it’s art, music, literature, movies, or dance. This will be not only the home for gay hip hop, but hip hop in general. The integration of hip hop on all levels, from underground, popular, and yeah gay hip hop. The only expectation I may have on this show is for it to be successful in the equality through music and talk” Baker affirms.
You would think he would have a fully equipped studio staff at his disposal but in actuality DJ Baker meticulously assembles every component of radio show by himself.
“I record the show Mon – Fri from 1pm to 4pm. That includes all the edits, drops, and voiceovers. The actual time it takes to record the show and then upload it, it’s about 4hrs. The more I do shows the easier it gets, cause I have a method now.”
As Baker’s radio show continues to grow, so will the attention to LGBT hip hop. These are indeed exciting and groundbreaking times for the LGBT community as it witnesses a transformation of thought, sound and music.
Music Festivals and Documentary Shine The Light of Awareness
It is a gathering of “family” and those who support the LGBT hip hop movement. Oakland, New York City, and the UK each have an annual gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer hip hop artists, activists, fans and supporters in order to celebrate their presence in hip hop. Each of the events features live music, DJs, spoken word, dance and art.
The original PeaceOUT World Homo Hop Festival was held in Oakland, California in August 2001 and has become an annual tradition organized by Juba Kalamka of Sugartruck Recordings. The PeaceOut East in New York is organized by Shante Paradigm.
PeaceOUT UK is Europe’s first gay hip-hop festival. Organized by Pac-Man and gayhiphop.com The event will focus on providing live performances by rappers, singers and scratch DJ ‘s from the gay hip-hop scene plus include the other aspects of hip-hop culture such as beatboxin breakin and graffiti.
In addition to concert festivals, now the big screen is beginning to see fresh new imagery of gay hip hop artists. A bold new documentary titled PICK UP THE MIC is literally sweeping across film festivals telling the once untold stories of homo hop artists.
It was filmed over a three year period taking its crew to large and mid-cities from New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, to Houston, Minneapolis, and Madison, Wisconsin capturing LGBT artist issues dealing with rehearsing, performing, and struggling with the most intimate feelings dealing with homophobia, gender identification, and suicide
According to promotional material, “PICK UP THE MIC features more than a dozen contemporary hip-hop artists, representing a striking range of sexual and ethnic diversity. Shot over a three-year period, the film traces their intertwining relationships from San Francisco’s underground music scene of the early ’90s through performances as recent as 2005.”
Additional information at http://www.pickupthemic.com, states that the documentary “reveals artists and producers as they attempt to express their lives through hip-hop music – a medium from which they’ve often felt alienated because of it’s widespread misogyny and anti-gay rhetoric. But their stories resonate far beyond the music industry and queer communities, reminding us all of the surprising resiliency of the human spirit.”
So could music festivals and a documentary about gay hip hop really be the keys to breaking down barriers, stereotypes and providing the pathway to tolerance and diversity? Well the simple fact that gay hip hop history is being documented and recorded and that the movement is being celebrated around the world in venues large and small indicates that there is continued growth to come. The genre has room to grow and what we could be witnessing is the genesis versus the apex of the homo hop movement.
Will A LGBT Hip Hop Artist Ever Cross Over?
Everyone’s watching and waiting. Can or will an openly gay hip hop artist ever successfully cross over into the mainstream? And why would straight audiences embrace a gay artist?
“Eventually someone will cross over. It’s inevitable; just as white, or female emcees have entered the game with relative success in a genre dominated by black (perceived) straight males. As for why straight people would listen to a gay hip hop artist? Because the music is good and the artist is lyrically gifted. For example, I have more straight hip hop fans than gay ones” explains Tim’m West.
DJ Baker enthusiastically agrees, “Hell yeah, but who I don’t know. Have we forgotten of the RuPaul’s and the Boy George’s of the world. Just a different time and different genre. In my eyes, they would have to be someone who must be able to gain respect from the general hip hop community. The more exposure these artists receive the more you get into the music, and you’re not preoccupied with who he or she is sleeping with or loving.
I can’t predict where or who, but the formula is the same for Homo Hop as it was for Reggeaton. Can we all remember a time when the radio and TV did not play any hip hop? It’s a struggle and if you asked me for artists to watch Punk Of Da South, Tori Fixx, Deadlee, and Godess. We’ll see, and Da Doo-Dirty Show will be there the whole way.”
Only time will tell who, when, where, and how an openly LGBT hip hop artist will crossover into the mainstream. But since history has a way of repeating itself, we can live with the assurances of knowing that the societal envelope will indeed be pushed further and eventually be ripped open to reveal a whole new realm of diversity, tolerance and creative talent to come.
To hear a radio interview with DJ Baker who hosts a Gay Hip Hop Radio show,
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